Seniors must watch what they eat to avoid malnutrition. photo
Seniors must watch what they eat to avoid malnutrition.

Seniors are at greater risk of malnutrition than other adults.
Melanie Stafford, a dietician at Providence ElderPlace in Gresham, said this is because seniors may have more difficulty preparing or acquiring healthy foods, limited funds, loss of appetite or interest in food, suboptimal dental condition, increased likelihood of isolation at meal times, or illnesses. 

“Appetite can also be affected by medications, illnesses, dementia, depression and other mood disorders,” Stafford said. “This decrease in hunger sensations and early satiety put seniors at risk for inadequate consumption of energy, protein, and other important nutrients.”

Here are some tips Stafford gives her senior patients to ensure they’re eating a healthy diet:

• High energy and nutrient dense foods are important for seniors experiencing a decrease in appetite that leads to weight loss. Seniors should focus on eating a variety of foods, including protein at each meal. Protein slows the loss of muscle mass.

• Fiber is also important too: Women should eat at least 21 grans per day and men should eat at least 30 grams. Fiber is important to maintain normal bowel functions. Good sources of fiber include whole grains (for example, multi-grain bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice or brown rice), fruits, vegetables and legumes. 

• To figure out how much water or other fluids to consume each day, take your weight and divide that number in half, Stafford said. That number in ounces indicates how much to drink at a minimum.

• As people age, their senses of smell and taste diminish, so they may be tempted to add salt to foods. The recommended daily amount of sodium for people over 51 is 1500 mg per day.  “However, considering a decrease in taste sensitivity as people age, some may find a diet this restrictive too bland and unpalatable,” Stafford said.  “If this is the case, the benefit of a more liberal diet with good intake of food outweighs the benefit of a low sodium diet.”  To reduce dietary sodium, stop adding salt when preparing foods and taste food before adding salt at the table.  Use herb-based seasonings that are sodium free, which can also enhance flavors.  Fresh produce is lower in sodium than canned or frozen fruit and vegetables. Stafford also recommends reading labels when shopping for processed foods: look for those labels “low sodium” or “no added salt.”

• Avoid solid fats, like those found in animal products (marbled meats, bacon, sausage, butter and whole milk products) or the trans-fats from cookies, pastries, donuts, and crackers.  Plant-based fats are the best: Canola, olive, peanut and soybean oils.  Avocados, nuts and olives also provide good fats.

• All seniors should take vitamin D supplements. “Vitamin D is known as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin,’” she said. “When sunlight hits our unprotected skin, vitamin D is produced.  Vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods.” Most people living at this latitude are deficient in vitamin D, especially during the winter months, Stafford said. Vitamin D plays supports good bone health, aides in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, boosts the immune systems, and regulates cell growth. All supplements should be discussed with a doctor or registered dietician, Stafford said, because some could have negative side effects when combined with certain medications.

“With the movement toward the practice of preventive medicine, many health insurance companies will cover visits with registered dietitians,” Stafford said. “[That] can help people gain nutrition information specific to their health and wellness needs.